SEA cleantech startup ATEC raises debt from US-based Beneficial Returns

The ATEC team. Photo: ATEC

Southeast Asian clean-tech company ATEC Biodigesters International (ATEC) has secured an unspecified amount in debt financing from US-based impact investor Beneficial Returns, it announced on Thursday.

Singapore-based Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) facilitated the deal through its Impact Partners platform, a crowdfunding platform for impact investing.

Beneficial Returns is known to provide loans of $50,000 to $500,000 for revenue-producing and cost-saving equipment to leading social enterprises that eliminate poverty and protect the natural environment in Latin America and South East Asia.

The fresh funding will be used by ATEC to launch the world’s first PAYGO (pay-as-you-go) model for biodigesters. Launching first in Cambodia, ATEC’s PAYGO model will increase access to renewable energy technology for rural farming families by improving the affordability of a biodigester system.

IIX’s impact assessment estimates that ATEC’s PAYGO model will enable 7,500 households to access clean energy, reduce exposure to indoor air pollution, free up over 3 hours per day per household—primarily for women—from basic cooking and fuel needs, and avoid 33,000 metric tons of carbon emissions per year.

In 2016, the company had received seed funding from Google and SNV. Later, it raised a Series A round backed by Small Giants, Fondation Ensemble, ENGIE Rassembleurs d’Energies, and a private Australian investor.

“The PAYGO integration will dramatically improve the affordability of ATEC’s biodigester system and allow us to impact even more families in rural developing communities with a more sustainable cooking option. We are pleased to offer a payment schedule that is flexible enough to allow as many people as possible to benefit from the cost-savings as well as a healthier lifestyle,” Ben Jeffreys, CEO of ATEC, said.

Under the PAYGO scheme, farming households who are unable to pay for the cost of a biodigester upfront can opt for monthly instalments. The additional savings generated by foregoing the purchase of gas and chemical fertilizer would offset the monthly payments.

Globally, there are an estimated 205 million farms that can benefit from biodigesters, with the majority of these being in Asia. Within this region, South and Southeast Asia present the highest potential, with Cambodia and Bangladesh representing potential markets of 1.3 million and 4.5 million farming households, respectively.

However, the market for biodigesters remains largely untapped and one of the biggest hurdles is small-scale farmers’ inability to afford the upfront purchase price.